[Post by Chuck Krugh, April 14, 2023]
In March, I spent some time talking to several levels of the leadership in our company about the General Dynamics business model and how we at BIW function within that model. I started each discussion by presenting a diagram that I put together about 20 years ago that depicts what empowerment looks like. This representation of empowerment aligns closely with how the GD model functions. I want to share my model with everyone on our team.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I started work at an early age with a morning paper route – the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (dating myself here). I did it for several years – every morning delivering papers and once a week collecting payment. I was running a business at the most basic level. As I got a little older, I worked in a hardware store. I’m a mechanic and pretty good at fixing things, so this job was a great fit for me as it allowed me to help people fix their problems around the house. In fact, it generated a lot of side work for me doing handyman jobs that people couldn’t or didn’t want to do. It was fun for me and I made some money on the side – win-win!
As I got older, it seems like I always had some handyman work going on to supplement my family’s income. My wife shares a similar entrepreneurial spirit, and she has had businesses of her own as well. When you are the owner, you have a responsibility to the customer, but also to yourself.
I have always approached my work in my primary jobs with that same mindset: I have owned whatever I have been responsible for. Along the way, I have worked for several different companies, and not every company or group of colleagues has displayed or encouraged that ownership or entrepreneurial spirit. This began to really bother me, especially as I took on management roles. I began really looking into this question. After some time and lots of conversations, I came to believe it was related to the level of empowerment people felt. Some of the people I was working with at the time didn’t believe that they were empowered or had been authorized by their leadership to be empowered.
As a manager, I wanted my team to feel empowered and to turn that empowerment into action. About 20 years ago, I created the diagram on this page to illustrate the results of my deep dive into what helps people take ownership.
This chart describes what empowerment means to me. I began to encourage my teams to use it as a sort of a Standard Operating Procedure to guide them as they made decisions. I’ve used it ever since. I find it helped drive the behaviors that were consistent with my concept of ownership in running our part of the business at the different companies where I worked.
Fast forward to 2011 when I joined the General Dynamics family. This chart became important to me as it reflects the new culture I was learning as a leader in GD. The GD model encourages us to be entrepreneurial in the conduct of our business.
The narrow red sliver of the pie chart is what you cannot do, and the large green area is where you have the opportunity to take ownership. What I have found is that most people believe the opposite to be true: they perceive the red area of restrictions is much, much larger than the green area of responsibility and authority. It is important that we change that understanding.
This empowerment comes with the responsibility of following the rules. The policies, procedures, specifications and other pertinent documents necessary to conduct our work form the boundaries we all work within and establish what we are empowered to do. As the diagram describes, you have authority to do what is ethical, legal, within our policy guidelines and safe.
You have a lot of authority: over how you do your work, over the quality of your work product, and over making sure that you do not conduct work when it is not safe. Those are just a few of the areas at work where you should feel ownership and empowerment.
One of the most important things that I want you to feel here is that you are accomplishing something every day at work. Taking on empowerment and accepting the responsibility for what you do is gratifying. You feel pride in your contributions and the end result: watching that destroyer go down the river to protect our families. Those feelings can motivate you to OWN your work and how you make it happen.
Don’t be afraid to take the opportunity of empowerment and accepting the responsibility for it. Knowing that you are empowered in your job can help you work more safely. You are empowered to make suggestions for process improvements. Work is much more rewarding when you are empowered and use that authority in ways that benefit your team and our company.
I would like to add an acknowledgement this week: I received an article through the interoffice mail titled “Safe Landing” – about Charlie Plumb’s experience in Vietnam. I appreciate that a teammate took the time to send this to me. It was signed “Just a fellow worker.” Thank you!
See you on the deckplates!
Safely Execute High-Quality Work
President, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works
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